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03/10/2016

Planners key to delivering government’s vision – RTPI

Words: Laura Edgar

RTPI chief executive Trudi Elliott has said the institute is pleased to see the investment in housing announced today by the communities secretary and that planners are key to delivering the government’s vision, with other industry professionals also welcoming the proposals.

Sajid Javid, communities secretary, announced a £3 billion Home Builders Fund at the Conservative Party Conference, while both he and chancellor Philip Hammond said housing is a priority for the government.

Javid also put forward initiatives to accelerate construction on public land and measures to encourage urban regeneration and to build on brownfield land.

He announced that a housing white paper would be published later this year.

Elliott said the RTPI has long argued that land supply, diversification of the housing market and transport infrastructure are key to tackling the housing crisis.

“We are therefore pleased that the government has announced new investment and measures today to address these issues, and welcome the forthcoming white paper.”

She said the RTPI is also heartened by the government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, the Midlands Engine, communities and Javid’s “acknowledgement that people need decent places, not just houses, to live”.

“Planners,” Elliott said, "are key to delivering this vision. Decades of underinvestment and sidelining of local planning need to be reversed to rebuild communities’ trust in the planning decisions that politicians and planners make in their areas.”

Meeting housing needs involves more than units

 

The Town and Country Planning Association has also welcomed the announcement that government is to publish a housing white paper.

Hugh Ellis, interim chief executive, said the white paper “must recognise the positive role of planning in addressing the nation’s housing crisis”.

“In particular, it must recognise that meeting the nation’s housing needs involves more than just delivering housing units – we need to create beautiful places which offer a wide range of employment opportunities; a complete mix of housing types, including social and affordable housing; zero-carbon design; sustainable transport; vibrant parks; and local food sourcing.”

In order for this to become a reality, the white paper must recognise the role of a modernised New Towns Act in providing mechanisms for creating genuinely affordable and high quality new communities, said Ellis.

It should also “recognise the role of placemaking alongside housing delivery”.

Important that government recognises planning is not a barrier

 

The measures aimed at creating a resurgence of SME builders are an “important step towards increasing the private sector’s output”.

Councils support moves to bring forward public land that can boost development, but Lord Porter, Local Government Association chairman, said, they must “remain able to manage their assets locally as they are best-placed to secure the best deal for local taxpayers”.

Lord Porter continued: “It is important for the government to recognise that planning is not a barrier to house building. Councils are approving nine in 10 planning applications yet our recent analysis also shows there are hundreds of thousands of homes with planning permission which are still waiting to be built.”

Councils need more powers to encourage developers to build homes more quickly, he added, but ultimately a “renaissance” in house building by councils is needed “if we are to stand any chance of solving our housing crisis”.

“Councils must be able to replace sold homes and reinvest in building more of the genuine affordable homes our communities desperately need.”

All measures welcomed

 

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said it is good to see the government are getting on with “business as usual” and is “not distracting us all from the pressing need to build more homes”.

“Plans to use surplus public land to build homes faster and changes to planning rules to help build on brownfield land are both very welcome news, particularly for the build-to-rent sector. Purpose-built rental development mostly takes place on brownfield land and therefore anything that helps with planning will be welcomed with open arms by our sector,” said Leech.

“We look forward to more details on use of public land and modern construction techniques, which are being embraced by the build-to-rent sector.”

Funding to help SMEs is right

 

Christian Faes, co-founder and CEO of online mortgage lender LendInvest, said relying on large house builders to deliver the homes required is “doomed to failure” and therefore it is “absolutely right” that this fund should be targeted at small builders.

"For too long, accessing funding for their projects has been simply too difficult, with the big banks not interested or too constrained to help. According to the NHBC Foundation, 22 per cent of small developers describe obtaining finance as a ‘major challenge’.

“This fund is a terrific step towards addressing that funding gap and ensuring we improve the number of homes built in the UK.”

However, Faes said helping them to pick up the house building slack would take more than money alone. The government should act immediately to make land more accessible to them, as well as supporting measures that would ensure they develop the skill sets they need to make a success of their projects.

Should invest in modernising the industry

 

Mark Farmer, CEO of Cast consultancy, said site availability and funding remain “critical” issues for the housing building issues, especially SMEs.

However, a “far greater” challenge lies in the construction industry’s capacity, “the ability to actually build the homes required”.

"The construction workforce is ageing and shrinking, and given the emphasis on immigration controls in May's opening speech and notwithstanding Sajid Javid’s recent positive statement that he will make sure the ‘building sector has got whatever it needs’, it seems more unlikely we will be able to guarantee the flow of migrant labour from Eastern Europe and elsewhere.”

Farmer said the solution is to invest in modernising the industry, supporting new methods of delivery like modular, and reforming the training process to make it more effective.

“If you do not do these things alongside helping with land availability, planning and funding for house building, you will just increase construction costs, which will be counter-productive and in itself will inhibit delivery.”

Fund will tackle a key barrier to SMEs building - finance

 

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, welcomed the government’s renewed focus on house building and its recognition that without a “resurgent SME sector, there’s little prospect of the country tackling its chronic undersupply of new homes”.

The launch of a £3 billion Home Builders Fund, “a significant part of which will be specifically targeted at supporting small-scale developers, will tackle one of the key barriers to SME house builders – a lack of access to finance”.

Berry said it is “critical”, particularly for the smallest firms and new entrants, that the new fund is made accessible to firms that will not want to engage with lengthy bureaucratic processes.

“Some government funding schemes have been previously available to smaller developers, but received relatively poor take-up due to the perceived complexity of applying, and the challenging time scales for delivery and repayment.”

He said the government would need to work closely with the industry to ensure that this policy is delivered in a way that is accessible and that enables both existing SMEs and new entrants to make maximum use of such a substantial fund.

“If the government get the details of this fund right, we would hope that the anticipated building of 25,500 homes over the course of this Parliament could act as a real catalyst for a much wider revival of SME house builders.”

Need to see more players on the pitch

 

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said that even after the “huge increases” in housing supply over the past few years, the country is still short of homes.

“House builders are still stifled by planning delays that prevent them getting on sites and delivering homes more quickly. Efforts to address this and remove some of the many barriers that new entrants face when trying make it into the industry and build new homes will undoubtedly help to boost housing output.

“Most of the big increases in supply in recent years have been driven by the largest house builders who have significantly boosted investment in land and skills. If we are to get to the level of supply required we need to see more players on the pitch. We need to enable small builders to play more of a part as well as facilitating more of a contribution from other sources.”

Image credit | Shutterstock

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